SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick discusses Game 1 victories for both the Rockets and Thunder in the Western Conference playoffs.
USA TODAY Sports
Shortly after James Harden did as James Harden does, scoring 44 points Sunday night to lead his Houston Rockets to a victory in Game 1 of their first-round series with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Charles Barkley posed a question to his Inside the NBA colleagues.
“Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, George Iceman Gervin, Kevin Durant and James Harden,” the Hall of Famer began. “Who is the best individual scorer out of those guys?”
Kenny Smith and Shaquille O’Neal were quick to go with Bryant over Harden — “all day, every day,” O’Neal put it.
“I don’t know, man,” Barkley responded. ” … James Harden, to me, might be the most unguardable player I’ve ever seen.”
The consensus among the group was that Harden is top-five all-time on that front. But best ever? Already? Let’s pump the brakes.
That’s not to say Harden — who should, and likely will, be named regular-season MVP at the NBA Awards show in June — isn’t among the best of the best. As was the case Sunday night, the versatility of his game so often proves to be too much to handle, even for the league’s best defenders.
“He’s a hell of a player, everybody knows that,” three-time All-Defensive Second Teamer Jimmy Butler said after the game. “You don’t just guard him with one guy. It’s everybody out there. Everybody has to be in the correct position. Challenge shots, contest him at the rim.”
Asked about the individual defense Butler and Derrick Rose played on Harden, Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau chuckled.
“There were several plays in which I thought we defended well and he made,” Thibodeau said. “James is that type of player. We’ve seen it all year. Very difficult to guard. Basically, you have to guard him with your whole team. It’s not just his scoring, but his playmaking. All the things that he does.”
In addition to the 44 points (on 15-for-26 shooting), Harden tallied eight assists, made seven of his 12 three-point attempts and shot a game-high nine free throws.
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